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Carbon Sequestration

Garlic harvest

This article is part of a monthly series where I am interviewing farmers on their no-till practices. Energized by our work at NOFA/Mass to sequester carbon into soil as quickly and effectively as we can, I have chosen to interview annual vegetable producing farmers around the Northeast, because no-till with succession production is not easy, nor are there many models.

Dan Pratt is an old NOFA friend from Hadley of a few decades. I was delighted to hear that he is applying for an Organic Farming Research Foundation grant to further develop his no-till system using compost and biochar on Astarte Farm that he once owned, but now has sold and where he remains as farm manager. Of course he will go ahead with it anyway, whether or not he gets some grant help.

Comfrey on field edges to keep out perennial weeds. Photo by Brian Caldwell

This month’s interview is with Jay Armour, co-owner (with wife Polly) of Four Winds Farm, an organically certified no till farm in the Hudson Valley in next-door New York State.

I asked Jay why he started to farm using no till a lot earlier than most organic farmers, who are now just coming around to it. Here’s what he has to say:

Basically, we started doing no till 20 years ago because Lee Reich said we would have fewer weeds. I was crazy with weeds and the ground was getting harder as the season would go on. It was like night and day to make the switch. We never went back to tilling. We started seeing other benefits happening that we weren’t really counting on. As we learned about carbon sequestration we realized it is a good thing for the earth. We get soil tests done because our inspectors like to see fairly regular tests. One thing that we have seen over the years was the organic matter going up. It was around 2.5%

Wood chips on Food Project’s Beverly farm

As part of our carbon restoration work, we are featuring practitioners who are trying innovative practices that build soil structure, growing capacity and quality, while carefully protecting and building underground carbon storage. We are collecting a sharable body of knowledge of practices that are effective at lowering atmospheric carbon dioxide while raising high quality organic food.

Chard in clover-based cover end of season October

The catalogue and order form for the Tri-State NOFA Bulk Order (serving MA, RI and CT) will be published January 1st 2016 here. You will have one month to place your order, and your order will be ready for pickup on Saturday, March 12 at the pickup site nearest you. Check out this map of the Tri-State pickup locations.

Dark soil profile

Dark soil profile

I had the pleasure recently of doing a phone interview with Casey Townsend to discuss the success of his first year using “no-till” at Natick Community Organic Farm (NCOF). Here below are his words.

I went to The Soil and Nutrition Conference in February. It was an overview of some of the work Bryan O’Hara has done at his farm. As he was talking about his compost, I realized that this might be a great option for the compost we make. I realized we could benefit if we were to use some of Bryan’s methods. We just filled all of our compost bins with a compost of manure, wood chips and leaves, a recipe with a C:N ratio of 30:1. Our newest mixture is 10 parts leaves, six parts wood chips, one part turkey manure – measured in tractor bucket loads. We turn it once and it comes out chunky.

Since I handed over the NOFA/Mass Education Director job to Glenn Oliveira (and he has embraced it with all of his might), I have time for investigation and outreach in directions that never seemed to fit into my day in the past.

Working to mimic nature, we are growing mixed vegetables on 1-acre scale without tillage except for hand tools and occasionally pigs or chickens. This class will cover the benefits of no-till, growing with permanent “raised” beds, weed prevention through mulches and cover crops, and breaking ground for new garden space with cardboard.

Cover crops aren’t just for large farms! Learn how to make use of cover crops in the home garden to improve soil health, reduce weed pressure, and sequester carbon. Participants learned the types of cover crops that are suitable for the garden, how and when to plant them, and how they can fit into a seasonal crop rotation.

Most efforts to respond to rapid global climate change center on emissions reduction or climate adaptation. This workshop explores a third tool - carbon sequestration in trees and soil. We’ll review the science and discuss agroforestry, holistic rotational grazing, organic no-till, and biochar. We'll identify promising methods and crops for farmers in the Northeast to trial.

I will report from the Africa Center for Holistic Management in Zimbabwe, where grazing, in accordance with evolutionary patterns, is re-greening highly depleted landscapes: helping to provide sustainable food and water security while invariably sequestering carbon through new soil formation. Case studies and explanations provided.

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